Two men describe sex abuse at hands of former Warren JFK trainer
Eleven men settled out of court with Warren John F. Kennedy High School for “upper five figures” each as a result of the sexual abuse they suffered at the hands of a brother who taught, coached baseball and served as athletic trainer at the school.
By Ed Runyan
Eleven men settled out of court with Warren John F. Kennedy High School for “upper five figures” each as a result of sexual abuse they suffered at the hands of a man who taught, coached baseball and served as athletic trainer at the school, two of the victims and their attorney said Wednesday.
Franciscan Brother Stephen P. Baker, now living in a monastery near Altoona, Pa., fondled teenagers age 14 to 18 from 1986 to 1990 in the school training room, elsewhere in the school and on trips outside of Warren, two of the victims said.
Brother Baker worked at the school from 1986 to 1991 but was never a member of the clergy, the Diocese of Youngstown said in a written statement. He is a member of the Franciscan Third Order Regular.
Two of the victims, now in their early 40s, said at a news conference at the Holiday Inn in Newton Falls that fondling occurred most frequently during massages in a small, closed training room at the school containing a whirlpool and massage table. Brother Baker would find excuses to massage athletes and would sometimes massage their genitals, the men said.
The men asked that their names and faces not be published. One of them said it was also common for the 400-pound Brother Baker to “grab you by your buttocks and bring you in” in front of lots of people in a classroom.
The boys “joked” about Brother Baker’s massages but never reported them to school officials, they said.
“It was always a running joke — ‘Don’t get a hang nail or you’ll have to drop your pants.’ Certainly a lot of jokes went around at that time,” one of the men said.
One of the victims described the training room, which had a piece of cardboard over the window. Brother Baker would “either put you in the whirpool and watch you take a whirlpool or massage different areas, private areas, maybe areas unrelated to your injury. Everything seemed to originate from the groin.”
The school, the diocese and the Franciscan TOR each paid the settlement, said Atty. Mitchell Garabedian of Boston, who negotiated it.
The Diocese of Youngstown first became aware of the allegations in 2009 from the men and their attorney, the diocese said. “Neither the diocese nor John F. Kennedy High School had any knowledge of the allegations of abuse while Brother Baker served at the school,” its statement said.
Brother Baker “did not admit the allegations but is living under strict supervision of the TOR order. He is not teaching or involved in any public ministry,” according to the statement.
Brian Sinchak, school president, referred all questions to the diocese.
Patrick Quinn, ministry provincial for the TOR, acknowledged the settlement with the 11 men in a prepared statement.
“Brother Baker has been and continues to be removed from all public ministry and is living under supervision in which he has no contact with minors,” the statement said.
The group that Brother Baker belongs to, called the Immaculate Conception Province, is headquartered in Hollidaysburg, Pa., and covers members in Florida, West Virginia, Minnesota and one member in Steubenville.
“The province deeply regrets the suffering endured by these 11 individuals and prays for the continued healing of all victims of sexual abuse,” Quinn said in the statement.
A call to St. Bernadine Monastery in Newry, Pa., where Brother Baker lives, was not returned. Brother Baker is now about 62 years old.
The victims attended the news conference with Robert Hoatson, who founded the nonprofit organization Road to Recovery in 2003 in West Orange, N.J., to assist victims of sexual abuse by clergy after the issue took center stage in 2002.
One of the men said he told his parents about the assaults at the point where Garabedian was first contacted in 2009, but the other man said he told his parents while it was going on.
“Even our parents, at least my parents, joked about it back then. ... The culture at the time was ‘It probably didn’t happen to the extent you’re saying it happens or do you think it’s really that bad,’ so we did talk about it with our parents.”
The other man added, “If we would have said exactly what happened instead of joking” it would have been taken more seriously.
Garabedian, who was present at the news conference by speakerphone, said he has concerns about Brother Baker committing acts in the future. The attorney said there ought to be an independent investigation of Baker’s activities, and the supervisors of Baker.
The statute of limitations that governs the filing of criminal charges has expired for anything happening from 1986 to 1990 except for one boy who was in middle school when he was assaulted, Garabedian said.
“That person is determining whether to proceed criminally against Brother Baker now as we speak,” Garabedian said.
One victim said that in the late 1980s, before priest sex allegations became national news, a religious brother’s activities were unquestioned.